Prince Harry has returned to Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters in the fight against the Taliban.
The 27-year-old army captain, who spent 10 weeks on the front line in 2007/08, will be in the hot seat of a fearsome Apache during his four-month deployment.
Having arrived in the war-torn country in the early hours of yesterday under the cover of darkness, Harry spent his first morning at Camp Bastion checking over the state-of-the-art Army aircraft which he has likened to a “robot”.
After about 10 days of acclimatisation and training to hone his skills, Captain Harry Wales – as he is known in the Army – will be set to go out on operations in his role as co-pilot gunner.
The Queen and Prince of Wales were both fully briefed about his return to operations and Charles is “immensely proud of his son”, St James’s Palace said.
A Royal Marine hailed a hero by Prince Harry after he lost two limbs in an Afghanistan blast said the royal’s desire to go to “war” and serve his country was the natural instinct of any soldier.
Marine Ben McBean said: “As a marine, a soldier in general, you want to go to war, you know, you don’t just want to say I spent 22 years in the forces – where did you go? – nowhere.
“You want to go and to say that, I’ve been there.”
The Marine added: “Even though he’s a royal, when he went through training he would have gone through exactly the same as everyone else, so mentally and physically he’s kind of on the same wavelength as everyone else.
“Now he’s an Apache pilot, again he’s going to want to go out there.”
Harry has made no secret of his desire to return to active service, and has spent the past three years changing the direction of his military career from an armoured reconnaissance troop leader to an Army helicopter pilot in order to be posted back to Afghanistan.
A St James’s Palace spokesman said: “He’s approached the deployment with a range of emotions like any other soldier and feels both pride and anticipation as he deploys for a job he’s trained for, for so long.
“Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honour to represent his country in Her Majesty’s armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him.”
Harry can now put his naked Las Vegas romp behind him, and hope that his widely-publicised antics will be seen as letting off steam ahead of a taxing deployment.
During his current posting he could carry out similar tasks to those he co-ordinated in 2007/08.
That tour of duty was abruptly ended when foreign media broke a news blackout on reporting details of his service.
This time the Ministry of Defence has chosen to confirm this deployment after a threat assessment concluded that acknowledging his presence in Afghanistan would not put the royal or his colleagues at further risk.
Harry will fly various types of mission while stationed in Afghanistan, from escorting RAF Chinook helicopters carrying troops or equipment to targeting Taliban fighters who have attacked ground troops.
His four-month tour coincides with Operation Herrick 17, which is the British military codename for current operations in Helmand Province.
He will be based in Camp Bastion, a huge base in the middle of the desert in the south west of the country, which is shared with US, Estonian, Danish and Afghan troops.
Last year, Harry suggested it would be pointless to undertake costly helicopter training if he never went into combat.
“You become a very expensive asset, the training’s very expensive and they wouldn’t have me doing what I’m doing.
“I count myself very, very lucky to have the chance to fly helicopters, and even luckier to have the chance to fly the Apache. It’s a fantastic piece of kit, it’s like flying a robot.”